This beautiful birdcage comprised of glass, brass and plexiglass was designed by Charles Lin Tissot. Although best known for his domestic glassware designed for Steuben, this birdcage from the Glass Gardens collection is an escape to a realm of fantasy. This birdcage was produced during the years that Tissot collaborated with the Venini glassworks in Murano, Italy. That collaboration resulted in glass birdcages that appear to be lighter than air.
Tissot, originally bothered by the triviality of Murano souvenirs produced in the 1950s, focused on creating objects that returned to the essentials of glasswork – drawing on ancient artistic techniques, applied with modern twists. These Venetian pieces were sold exclusively at either Bonniers or Tiffany’s. The birdcage is expertly crafted with thin glass rods tapered to a point, exquisite domes surmounted by ornamental finials, and brass hardware that supports it all without being intrusive.
Seemingly inspired by the Taj Mahal, the birdcage demonstrates many techniques employed by the glass artisans in Venice, specifically glassblowing, lampwork and “Zanfirico” glass. Zanfirico glass, utilized for the large support posts, is a means of creating decorative glass canes. These canes are made by assembling rods of different colors, in this case clear and white, and heating them until soft. The rods are then twisted and elongated resulting in the double helix effect, seen in the cage’s posts.
The birdcages of this collection emphasize the duality of glass, calling upon the viewer to decide whether the piece is decorative or fine art. Glass is a medium that straddles the line between existing for its own sake (fine art) and being functional (decorative art). By design this is a fully functional birdcage complete with sliding doors, perches, swings and feeding bowl, a perfect home for a bird. Yet, Tissot created glass birds to inhabit the perches of this cage forcing the viewer to see the cage as a total work of art. The ornament and the architectural design transform the mundane birdcage into an ethereal sculptural work of art.
Susan Teichman is a design historian specializing in jewelry design and synagogue architecture.